Sermon – August 11, 2019 – Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Let us begin in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. +Amen. 

       What is faith?

       According to the writer of Hebrews faith is “…the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” That is the future rooted in the present.

       Martin Luther tells us that faith is God’s work in us, work that changes us and gives us new birth from God. Faith kills the Old Adam and brings to life the New Adam in each of us making us completely new people. Our hearts, spirits, thoughts, and powers are all changed. The Holy Spirit makes this a living, creative, active, powerful faith.[1]

       A living, creative, active, powerful faith is certainly needed to face the challenges of everyday life. Today we hear the writers of Genesis and Jesus both saying Do not fear

       Words that are rather difficult to hear following last weekend’s massacres in El Paso and Dayton. For me the Dayton shooting feels rather personal. Dayton is my hometown. I’ve been to The Oregon District in Dayton where the shooting took place. Anyway, I digress.

       All any of us want is to feel safe, to be safe.

       Even though our God is a God of promises and covenants, we encounter faithful Abraham questioning God’s promise in the Genesis reading. Abraham who is honored by Jews, Christians, and Muslims is a central image of the life of faith. God chose Abraham and his family to be the chosen family, promising Abraham and Sarah they would have so many descendants they would be too numerous to count even though both Abraham and Sarah were old and well past childbearing age.

Today we find Abraham questioning how and perhaps even when God’s promise will be fulfilled since he and Sarah remain childless.

God reminds Abraham once again that he will indeed father a child, inviting Abraham to go out, look up at the night sky, and count the stars if he can, saying the number of his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Abraham believed God and God reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Sometimes we lose meaning in the translation of the original Hebrew to English. I would like to take just a minute and think about 3 words with you. The word “reckoned” here means added up, calculated, concluded. The word “righteousness” means fulfillment of the covenant. The image these words suggest for me is a scale, a scale that is perfectly equal. What was Abraham’s part in the covenant? To trust and believe in God’s promise. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for “believe” is amen. The root of amen is a stake rooted in the ground– we could say Abraham pitched his tent and staked his future with God.[2]

       The good news my friends, is that God fulfilled God’s promise to Abraham. Abraham and Sarah did indeed have a son and from that son so many descendants that they were too numerous to count. You and I are one of those descendants. Yet there will be times that we struggle and question what is happening in our life. God’s timing is not our timing.

       Have you ever felt like God was distant and not listening to you anymore? It’s okay. You are not alone. Many of us struggle with this. Theologian Renita Weems says this about faith, “It is something to be recovered – something you misplace and recover a thousand times in a lifetime. Nor is belief in God, mystery, or prayer something one either possesses or doesn’t. Rather, belief is something one tries continually to keep oneself open to, accessible to, or something one continually refuses to open oneself up to.”

       The problem comes when we decide to bolster our faith by turning to material things. The things that we can secure for ourselves. Things like knowing we have money in the bank; having a house; putting up alarm systems and video monitors; or perhaps walking around locked and loaded.

       But then Jesus makes this statement saying, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” It is as if Jesus is saying we can refocus our priorities by the way we spend our money. Just a few short chapters ago, Jesus sent 70 disciples out with the instructions to take no purse, no bag, no sandals. This meant the disciples had to depend upon others to supply them with food, lodging, and their other needs. In order to secure their food, lodging, and other needs the disciples would have to build relationships with others. That was exactly Jesus’ point – concentrate on building relationships. When you carry lots of stuff with you, so you feel safe you are going to be too busyprotecting your stuff to work on those relationships.

       Life is all about relationships. Last Sunday morning as she lay dying in the streets of Dayton, OH a young woman grabbed her phone and facetimed the father of her children saying, “…I just got shot in my head, I need to get to my kids.”[3]This young mother was not worried about bank accounts, houses, or security systems in her last moments of life, rather her thoughts were relational and about her children.

Thinking of new adventures and opportunities to build new relationships, Mary Corkery, the young woman who has served as the youth leader these last few months here at St Matthew’s is embarking on a mission trip this week with the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission, better known as YAGM. I’m sure she is only allowed to take minimal items with her for her year of service in Hungary. However, I suspect she will return home with many new friendships and relationships she will never forget.

That’s the thing my friends. We don’t want to simply feel safe in life; we want to actually be safer. Jesus is coming, we need to be ready. But are we preparing in the right way? Are we preparing the right things?

We can’t just prepare by protecting our material goods. Although it is important to have those affairs in good order too. No rather, Jesus is telling us to make our hearts ready. Jesus is clear about one thing – too often we are not ready, and too often we prepare the wrong things. Jesus is sneaky – like a thief in the night – no one knows when he is coming.

That is why we need to live today as if this is going to be the Kingdom tomorrow. We need to enact Justice and Peace. We need to imagine together what heaven is like and then not just patiently wait for it to come, but instead to prepare earth as much as humanly possible for that moment when Jesus arrives.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed about how much injustice there is, and how big the problems are Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg suggests

1.  Make a list of 5 things that you could do that would help, in whatever way.

2.  Pick one thing that you could today. And one this week.

3.  Revisit the list next week.[4]

I like Ruttenberg’s suggestion that life can certainly be overwhelming with so many injustices. We certainly cannot address every issue ourselves. However, if we focus on one thing we can do today and this week, we too can make a difference. We too can help make earth more ready for Jesus’ return.

Abraham and Sarah did just that. They believed God’s promise of a child and descendants too numerous to count. Even though they waited a long time for their son Isaac to be born, they did not sit by idly waiting for an Immaculate conception. Rather they actively participated in God’s promise of a long-awaited child and many descendants by continuing to enjoy martial relations even at their advanced ages, yes you heard me correctly – Abraham and Sarah had sex – they were active participants in God’s promise of a child.

Just as Abraham and Sarah participated in God’s promise, we too should prepare for the Kingdom. Not because it might come but because as we prepare by enacting Justice and Peace, imagining what heaven is like, and preparing earth for that moment when Jesus arrives makes the time pass quicker. It also allows us to build relationships with people we might not otherwise ever meet.

Waiting can be the hardest part. Especially when it is for something grand like the Kingdom. Think about brides and grooms waiting for their wedding day. What do they do while they wait? Oh, the lists and planning it takes to get to that wedding day. The invitations, the bride’s dress, the groom’s tuxedo, the wedding party’s outfits, the music, the venues, the food, the colors, rehearsal, the wedding day, so many plans, so much do, so little time. But the time goes by quickly as the couple works on all the things to be done.

It is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom which is ours to share. Be prepared for Kingdom moments to interrupt your days and ready to share the kingdom with another and God has so graciously shared it with you.




[2]Lectionary Lab Live